Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1008
George Sand’s Indiana presents the story of a woman fighting against the oppressions of her society, a woman challenging, as Sand called it in her 1842 preface to the novel, “the false relationship between the sexes.” Through this theme, Sand explores a spectrum of issues touched by this struggle—individualism, duty, honor, love, jealousy, fear, falsehood, and truth.
When the public was first introduced to the novel in 1832, it provoked controversy over Sand’s criticism of the strictures of traditional roles of men and women, particularly those of husbands and wives. That controversy earned Sand instant fame. She was praised and condemned for her commentary on society’s injustices. Some called the novel treacherous for threatening the stability of traditional institutions; others marveled at its capacity to dramatize the struggle and eventual triumph of a single soul fighting against the arbitrary whims of an oppressive husband and the glaring hypocrisies of an unjust society. Sand herself noted that she, as “a young author—a mere neophyte in the world of social ideas, one whose literary and philosophical equipment consisted of a little imagination, a bit of courage, and a love of truth—was thus endowed with a weighty role.”
Sand’s own personal rebellions—her decision to flee her husband to live a bohemian life in Paris, her preference for men’s clothing, her active participation in renowned literary circles, and her liberated sexual attitudes—became as noted as her novels. She was an active member of the literary community in Paris and a close friend to such influential figures as Honoré de Balzac, Alfred de Musset, Eugene Delacroix, Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt, and Gustave Flaubert.
Indiana is a quest for the happiness that is possible only through liberty and equality, an assertion of the primacy of the individual over the demands of society. Contrary to the novel’s crusade for equality among the sexes, however, is its presentation of women; Sand’s depiction of women as nurturers bound by a duty to love and to serve is inconsistent with the ideal of true independence. Her pleas for equality are irreconcilable with her views on the course a woman’s life must necessarily take. Sand asserts that women have a fundamentally different temperament than men and that this feminine temperament predisposes them to certain roles. The capacity for boundless love and devotion are, to Sand, distinguishing aspects of what makes a woman noble. A woman’s outlet for such nobility is, of course, as mother, wife, nurse, companion—roles in which a woman’s life is conceptualized primarily in terms of her relationship to men.
At the heart of Indiana’s struggle is the search for truth. In order for Indiana to develop the spirit of individualism necessary to cast aside the forces that chain her, she must first confront society’s values and identify its failings. Indiana refuses to withstand the continued oppression of her married life and leaves her husband. Believing in the integrity of Raymon de Ramière’s professions of love, despite evidence to the contrary, she runs to him. She realizes her error when she is confronted with the indisputable fact that his words of love are but momentary fancies, created as much to flatter his own vanity as to win her favor. In the preface to the 1832 edition of Indiana, Sand observed that “[de Ramière] is the false reason, the false morality, by which society is governed; the world considers him an honorable man because the world does not examine things closely enough to see them clearly.”
Each of the three main male characters represents a prevailing political force at the time of the novel’s publication. Monsieur Delmare clings fiercely to his Napoleonic heritage; Sir Ralph supports a democratic society where all are equal under the law; and de Ramière upholds the supremacy of post-Napoleonic aristocracy. Sand’s endorsement of a democratic society is evident throughout the novel. As her career as a writer progressed, the importance of politics in her work increased.
As with many of the novels of the early nineteenth century Romantics, the characters’ motivations are grounded in psychology. Indiana’s desperate urge to liberate herself from the oppressions of her position, Sir Ralph’s self-imposed loneliness, Delmare’s excessive violence, and de Ramière’s compulsive need for romantic conquest illustrate how the culminating forces of social classes, gender roles, personal experiences, and individual judgments influence each character’s fundamental beliefs. The parallels between Indiana and Noun, her maid and foster sister, recount the conflict-ridden evolution of Indiana’s own character. Sand’s use of double characters enables her to examine a duality common to Western culture; the high-born, chaste, and spiritual Indiana contrasts with the low-born, sensual, and earthly Noun. As Indiana begins her journey toward self-fulfillment, Noun dies, and Indiana begins to integrate the parallel characteristics. Noun’s death after being betrayed by de Ramière, the man who teaches Indiana a harsh lesson in love, portends the tumultuous passage that Indiana must make before she gains the independence, sexual confidence, and clarity of judgment that will enable her to achieve the happiness she seeks.
The conclusion of the novel reaffirms the individual’s responsibility for his or her life and happiness. Indiana realizes that she must make her own decisions if she is to be truly happy and to liberate herself from her abusive husband to join de Ramière. De Ramière’s ambivalence toward her devotion leads her to recognize the cruel facade with which society has replaced honor. Those lessons lead Indiana and Sir Ralph to flee to a remote cottage to live out their days in peaceful happiness. As Indiana closes, Sir Ralph concludes that “society has no right to demand anything from the person who demands nothing from it” and advises one to “respect [society’s] laws if they protect you, accept its judgments if they seem fair—but if someday society slanders and spurns you, have enough self-respect and pride to do without it.”